The beauty of enterprise lies in its ever evolving nature. Enterprise is never stagnant, and it’s hardly predictable. I guess that’s why only a select few can make it as successful entrepreneurs.
But put aside your knowledge on traditional entrepreneurs for a minute. We are now faced with a new breed of entrepreneur; the social entrepreneur.
Social entrepreneurs are rising in response to the overwhelming social and environmental challenges that we face. These entrepreneurs are working to exploit opportunities around them, but not with profit in mind. These entrepreneurs are looking to effect social change.
Social entrepreneurs have a powerful impact on our society today, and they are slowly redefining everything we think we know about enterprise. The question is, are social entrepreneurs the future of enterprise?
What is Social Entrepreneurship?
The concept of social entrepreneurship is sometimes confusing. If you search this term on Google, you will find vague and contradictory definitions. So what exactly is this enigma?
Well, I would simply define social entrepreneurship as the use of business principles to create solutions for problems plaguing society.
The purpose of social entrepreneurship is to solve chronic problems that our government and/or our society have failed to tackle. And if you look at our world today, you will see that there are numerous problems going unnoticed; welfare, health care, education, waste disposal, access to food and water e.t.c
Social entrepreneurs usually work hand in hand with local communities, companies, governments, and charities, to provide innovative solutions that have a positive impact on society. Because social enterprises do not rely solely on donations from well wishers, they use an income strategy that is sustainable for a long time to come.
After all, no successful enterprise has ever stood on the foundation of donations and government sponsorship.
P.S. If you’d like an in-depth analysis on social entrepreneurship, then you should check out this insightful article on TIM Review.
Traditional Entrepreneur: Idea +Efficient Execution= Quality Product + Good Profit Margins
Social Entrepreneur: Idea + Efficient Execution= Transformed Society
The Boundary Issue
As I mentioned earlier, social entrepreneurship is often misunderstood. The fact that there are several definitions of the term makes it challenging to determine whether someone is actually a social entrepreneur.
Social activists, philanthropists, and environmentalists all play a huge role in driving change in society. Companies that have foundations and organizations that label themselves as ‘socially responsible’ also provide huge societal impact.
So do they fall under the social entrepreneurship banner?
Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship politely disagrees. Providing value to society does not make you a social entrepreneur; it makes you a valued member of society and possibly a good neighbor and friend.
To be considered a social entrepreneur, you need to function within business boundaries (the entrepreneur part). You can be:
- A sustainable non-profit venture: In this case, any revenue and profit generated is funneled back into providing more value to society e.g. Embrace, Ashoka, Housing Works, OneWorld Health
- A profit making venture: In this case, you are a financially independent business with a social purpose. However, investors profit from the revenue streams created e.g. Toms Shoes, Grameen Bank, DripTech
Why Should We Pay Attention to Social Entrepreneurship?
Good question. Well, we can all agree that our society needs a huge influx of positive reinforcement. We need to start enriching our society, especially in areas that have been neglected for one reason or another.
As a traditional entrepreneur your number one focus is profits, with your impact on society taking second priority.
As a social entrepreneur you can change all of this. You can literally be the good guy.
All you need to do is identify a social problem (of which they are thousands), come up with an innovative way to solve this problem, and then implement your solution with positive results for the society.
Here’s a brilliant TED talk that I came across by PR Ganapathy, in which he discusses the importance of socially conscious business owners in our world today.
He uses several examples of social entrepreneurs in India, to show how this new breed of enterprise can have a monumental impact on society.
Is It All Good News?
I’ve said a lot of positive things about social entrepreneurship. So is it all roses and daisies?? Well, on the bright side, social enterprises are highly scalable as they do not depend on donations and government funding like charities and NGOs.
Furthermore, social enterprises have the ability to hire great talent, as they have a revenue stream that can pay the salary of this talent.
However, many people look at social entrepreneurship like charity work. There are still people who do not take social entrepreneurship seriously, and who ignore the huge benefits that this occupation provides. This is despite the fact that many big universities are now holding social entrepreneurship courses.
There is also the fact that mentors are difficult to come by. This means that you might walk this path alone.
And lastly, social entrepreneurship is challenging.
If you are an entrepreneur, then you already know the difficulty of succeeding in our cut-throat market. Now add on the pressure of tackling large issues and creating positive societal change; that’s enough to give the average person a big headache.
That’s why social entrepreneurship is not for everyone. For you to succeed in this occupation, you need to have the skill, talent, and character to truly kick ass.
Examples of Social Entrepreneurs
When it comes to identifying social entrepreneurs and social enterprises, you really don’t have to look too far.
One of the most revered social entrepreneurs is Muhammad Yunus, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. This Bangladeshi social entrepreneur founded Grameen Bank, which is a microfinance organization that offers small loans without collateral to impoverished innovators in Asia, Latin America, and Africa.
We also have Edouard Carrie, who was recently featured in a Forbes article. Carrie founded the Environmental Cleaning Service, which works to collect and recycle plastic garbage in Port-Au-Prince (Haiti). This company was created in response to the devastating Haiti earthquake, and it currently generates $3 million in annual revenue.
We also have social enterprises like Embrace (2008), which provides affordable infant warmers to low birth weight/premature babies. These warmers help to reduce the high neonatal deaths that occur in rural areas, due to lack of advanced incubation equipment.
There is also Driptech, which is a water technologies company that produces low-cost and high-quality irrigation systems. These systems help small-plot farmers increase their profitability by amazing margins by using smarter designs.
Are You A Social Entrepreneur?
After reading all of that, I know that you’re trying to figure out if you have the ability to be a social entrepreneur.
Are you the person who can take full advantage of opportunities around you to advance the community that you live in? Are you resourceful enough to come up with innovative solutions to society’s problems?
Can you pursue your goals with enthusiasm and relentlessness?
Can you apply your entrepreneurial skills and business strategies to alleviating problems in our society? Can you build a sustainable venture that has the ability to scale widely? Can you drive change even when your goals seem impossible?
Can you persuade people to follow your lead? Can you drum up support for your initiative, by ensuring that what you are proposing is straightforward and beneficial to society?
If you said yes to these questions, then you have the potential to become a successful entrepreneur. If you know that you can combine your passion for a positive society with your business smarts and discipline, then you can become a social entrepreneur.
Don’t let anyone stop you!
Don’t forget to share this crucial information with your entire email list, and drop a comment and let me know if social entrepreneurship is an occupation that you’ve considered. And if you want me to send you weekly newsletters with first-hand updates on all posts, sign up before you leave.
I hope you re-read this post again, and seriously consider the impact that you can have on our society.
See you again next Monday!
Social entrepreneurship is challenging, thankfully, there are organizations that focus on providing support, advice, empowerment, resources, and funding to social entrepreneurs. Here are a few of these organizations:
2. The Skoll Foundation
3. Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship